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On April 21, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) inked its second civil settlement resolving allegations of fraud involving loans issued pursuant to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Sandeep S. Walia, M.D., a Professional Medical Corporation (Walia PMC), and its owner, Dr. Walia, agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and penalties to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) tied to allegations that Dr. Walia falsely certified in a second PPP loan application that his medical practice had not previously received a PPP loan after it had already received one from a different lender.  Walia PMC also agreed to repay the second PPP loan for $430,000.  This latest settlement is a continued reflection of the heightened scrutiny of the PPP, and suggests that the FCA may quickly become a favored enforcement tool by the government in its continued pursuit of PPP-related fraud.
Continue Reading Avoiding Loan Forgiveness Is No Shield from False Claims Act Liability in Latest Paycheck Protection Program Fraud Settlement

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This week’s episode covers two bid protest decisions as well as developments under the False Claims Act, and is hosted by partner Peter Eyre and counsel Yuan Zhou. Crowell & Moring’s “Fastest 5 Minutes” is a biweekly podcast that provides a brief summary of significant government contracts legal and regulatory developments that no government contracts

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has added emergency loans for small businesses to its list of government programs vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. On March 2, 2021, GAO released its latest High Risk List identifying troubled federal government programs in need of significant improvement. The GAO concluded that the Small Business Administration (SBA) must demonstrate more robust integrity controls and better management practices over the PPP and EIDL programs. GAO’s findings put pressure on the SBA to ensure quicker adoption of GAO’s recommendations for improvements and keeps public focus on the need for SBA audits and investigations of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program participants.
Continue Reading GAO’s High Risk List Puts Spotlight on Emergency Loans For Small Businesses, Reinforcing Audit and Investigation Risk for PPP and EIDL Program Participants

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On February 25, 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois announced a settlement to resolve allegations that a contractor that was not an eligible participant in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program violated the False Claims Act by controlling a joint venture that claimed 8(a) status and won an

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This week’s episode covers the new Supply Chain Executive Order, a False Claims Act settlement involving small business matters, and waiver of a GSA Schedule solicitation requirement, and is hosted by partner Peter Eyre. Crowell & Moring’s “Fastest 5 Minutes” is a biweekly podcast that provides a brief summary of significant government contracts legal and

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In this episode, host Mana Lombardo and partner Tully McLaughlin discuss the top FCA decisions and developments of 2020 and look ahead to what’s in store in 2021 and beyond. “Let’s Talk FCA” is Crowell & Moring’s podcast covering the latest developments with the False Claims Act.

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Yesterday, February 17, 2021, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, Brian Boynton, highlighted the central role that the False Claims Act (FCA) has held and will continue to play in the government’s civil fraud enforcement toolkit for years to come. In prepared remarks at the Federal Bar Association’s 2021 Qui Tam Conference, Grassley confirmed that he is drafting legislation intended to curb what he called the government’s incorrect interpretation that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has unfettered authority to dismiss qui tam lawsuits brought by relators. In an apparent reference to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Universal Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016), Senator Grassley also asserted that the courts have weakened the statute by dismissing cases based on a misapplication of the FCA’s materiality requirement, another area that he suggested was ripe for Congressional intervention. In separate remarks, Boynton highlighted DOJ’s top priority areas for FCA enforcement in the coming years as well as tools the government is developing to increase its ability to uncover complex fraudulent schemes.

Continue Reading “You Have to Come Down with a Sledgehammer, Not a Toothpick!” – Senator Grassley Previews Potential Amendments to Increase False Claims Act Enforcement and Recoveries

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On February 3, 2021, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) issued an update to its Top Challenges in Pandemic Relief and Response, identifying new challenges in funding oversight and reiterating others identified in its original report issued in June 2020. The updated report, based on feedback received from Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) at more than 40 agencies, identifies four new challenges focused on ferreting out fraud related to pandemic funding and the health and safety of federal employees: (1) preventing and detecting fraud against government programs; (2) informing and protecting the public from pandemic-related fraud; (3) data transparency and completeness; and (4) federal workplace safety. The PRAC also identifies contributory risk factors within each new challenge and makes recommendations for agencies to conduct additional oversight. This PRAC update, along with a recently-issued quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), confirm the rising tide of civil enforcement activity with respect to pandemic relief funds and the attendant risks to recipients and entities involved in administering such funds, particularly in light of the punitive damages provided for by the government’s most powerful civil fraud enforcement tool, the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729.

Continue Reading February Reports from PRAC and SIGPR Confirm Government’s Focus on Pandemic Funding Oversight and Enforcement Challenges

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On January 19, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s rejection at summary judgment of a disgruntled employee’s False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim in Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, No. 19-10945 (11th Cir. Jan. 19, 2021). The Court’s decision makes clear that, despite expansions to the FCA in 2009 and 2010 protecting employees who engage in “efforts to stop 1 or more violations” of the FCA, plaintiffs must nevertheless establish that they held an objectively reasonable belief that they were attempting to prevent the submission of false claims to the government for their conduct to constitute protected activity.

The plaintiffs worked for Spirit of Athens, a nonprofit organization. The executive director became concerned in reviewing tax returns that $61,000 of the organization’s expenses were generally categorized as “other expenses” without any further explanation. The executive director verbally retracted her signature on the tax forms, but the organization’s president signed and submitted them himself. The executive director and her assistant then arranged for the board members to receive a copy of the tax documents, shared their concerns with the president, and even hired an outside firm to audit the organization’s tax returns. Apparently unhappy with the executive director and her assistant’s conduct, the president fired them. The two then brought suit against the organization, claiming that they were terminated for “their attempts to combat the organization’s misuse of federal funds.” The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that plaintiffs had failed to establish that they had engaged in protected activity under the FCA.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Holds that a Sincere Belief is not the Same as a Reasonable One Under the False Claims Act’s Retaliation Provision

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Like many other aspects of the legal landscape, 2020 was defined by COVID-19 and emerging areas of exposure and enforcement to come related to pandemic relief funding. But 2020 also saw many other important FCA developments, from case law developments on materiality, causation, pleading requirements, bars to qui tam actions, and the government’s authority to